Matt Lasley | GC News-Gazette Grayson County Public Health Director Mindy Renfrow displays a retractable needle that would be given out by the Grayson County needle exchange program during Tuesday's Fiscal Court meeting.

Matt Lasley | GC News-Gazette

Grayson County Public Health Director Mindy Renfrow displays a retractable needle that would be given out by the Grayson County needle exchange program during Tuesday's Fiscal Court meeting.

The Grayson County Fiscal Court failed to vote Tuesday night on whether to implement a harm reduction/needle exchange program in Grayson County.

Following more than two hours of testimony from healthcare, law enforcement, and other elected officials, 2nd District Magistrate Darin Whitely motioned to approve implementing the program, which would allow intravenous drug users to exchange used needles for sterilized, retractable needles, for 13 months with the option of discontinuing it should it prove unsuccessful.

Whitely's motion was not seconded, and it died as a result; however, Grayson County Judge Executive Kevin Henderson noted that the subject of a Grayson County needle exchange may be brought up again in the future.

Implementing a needle exchange in Grayson County previously received approval from the Leitchfield City Council and Grayson County Board of Health, so the final decision remains that of the Fiscal Court, but several magistrates stated they were not prepared to make a vote Tuesday night.

3rd District Magistrate Tommy Higdon said he needed more time to process the information provided to him about the proposal, and 6th District Magistrate Neal Saltsman said that, while he was not against the program, the majority of his constituents had expressed to him that they were.

Grayson County Jailer Jason Woosley, who in open court testified he is against the implementation of the program, addressed the six newly elected magistrates and said it is disheartening for any motion to die for lack of a second.

Woosley continued to say that magistrates are elected to represent the county and, should the decision to implement the program be brought before them again, they should be prepared to vote.

The discussion opened with the Grayson County Health Department's presentation of the program to the Fiscal Court.

Doctor Joseph Lee and Greg Corby-Lee, the latter of whom recently retired as the Kentucky Department for Public Health's HIV/AIDS Continuing Education Director, presented statistics in regards to the rising danger of hepatitis and HIV outbreaks as a result of needle sharing among IV drug users.

Corby-Lee said the largest factor of Hepatitis C contraction in Kentucky is due to injecting drugs, an issue which healthcare officials hope a needle exchange could address by reducing the number of dirty needles used by drug users.

Grayson County Public Health Director Mindy Renfrow, who has spearheaded the Grayson County needle exchange, said that, on a client's first visit to the program, he or she would be provided up to 15 needles to establish a base, and, after that, the exchange would operate on a one-for-one basis. Clients of the program would be limited to two visits per week, as well. 

The Grayson County Board of Health also voted to give out only retractable needles, which cannot be used a second time after their first use, should the program be implemented, Renfrow said.

Lee said that, while no one is happy that there is a need for a needle exchange, few do not know someone who has been affected by drug abuse, and, while the program would not be a cure-all for the disease of addiction, healthcare professionals agree that it would cut down on the risk of disease outbreak, as well as offer support to individuals who may feel they have lost all other avenues for help.

"It affects the whole community, and we're all affected by it," he said. "The problem is here. This is not something we can ignore."

Also testifying in favor of the program were State Sen. Steve Meredith, Twin Lakes Regional Medical Center CEO Wayne Meriwether, and Dr. Kenneth Green, the latter of whom said the local medical staff has come to the consensus that the program would be a benefit to the community.

While the majority of the local healthcare community appeared united in favor of the needle exchange program, several members of the local law enforcement community expressed a number of concerns with it.

46th Judicial District Commonwealth's Attorney Rick Hardin said he is hesitant to believe statistics that say needle exchange programs actually increase an individual's likelihood to attend rehabilitation, as well as whether they cut down the spread of diseases such as hepatitis and HIV.

The primary issue is with the needles, which, he said, are illegal for a reason.

"How many overdose deaths occurred because of needles?" said Hardin.

Grayson County Sheriff Norman Chaffins echoed Hardin's sentiment, expressing his discomfort with providing a drug user with the tool to inject illegal drugs into his or her veins.

Lee said the program does not enable drug users because they would use any needle they could find, but Chaffins said he cannot support a program that would provide individuals with the tool needed to feed their addiction.

Woosley said that even though law enforcement officials may not support a needle exchange, that does not mean they do not recognize its health benefits; however, to them, the negative aspects outweigh the positives.

Grayson County Attorney Jeremy Logsdon said while he understands the program's goal is to protect Grayson Countians from the spread of disease, his primary concern with the program is that, since there is not another similar program close to Grayson County, the influx of participants could lead to increased drug trafficking in the county.

Following the Fiscal Court's failure to vote on the issue, Henderson stressed that the issue may be brought up again in the future, something he had previously considered suggesting to magistrates to allow them time to consider the information being presented to them.

Henderson also said that, while many in the county have expressed that they are against the implementation of a needle exchange, hardly anyone attended the health department's public health forum held last month. He said that it is easy to express an opinion online but not so easy in person, and he applauded the efforts of the health department to educate the public on the program.

In other business:

*The Fiscal Court voted to accept applications for the position of a Grayson County Grant Administrator.

This individual would apply for grants under the direction of Henderson, and his or her salary, the total of which has not yet been determined, would be divided between the Fiscal Court, Grayson County Schools, and Grayson County Detention Center.

Henderson also appointed Chaffins, Woosley, Whitely, and Superintendent Doug Robinson to serve on a hiring committee with him.